Croatian Air Force and Air Defense [HRZ] Modernization
In the beginning of 2002, the MOD signed a contract with Romania for the upgrade and modernization of a MIG 21 fleet. In April 2003, the MOD accepted a US Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for communication, navigation and identification friend or foe (COM/NAV/IFF) equipment, upgrading services support and training support for two Mi-8 helicopters. Contract is fully financed by the US Government FMF granted funds.
The Long Term Development Plan of the Croatian Armed Forces (CAF) for the period 2006-2105 was adopted in the Croatian Parliament on 07 July 2006. This is a document that puts into operation the vision of the Croatian Armed Forces shown in the Strategic Defence Review. The emphasis of equipping in Air Force and Air Defence will be given to a new combat aircraft which will be put into use when the existing aircraft resources expire and a modern radar system. Financial means up to 2.8 billion Kuna over the next ten years were planned to be allocated toward equipping and modernization of the main combat systems in the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence.
- Procurement of modern jet fighters. Croatia plans to modernize its air force by introducing 12 multirole fighters. In the competition are Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Lockheed Martin F-16 and RSK MiG-35 Cost of program - 5,000 million Croatian Kuna.
- Procurement of 10 to 12 Mi-171Sh transport-attack helicopters and all associated spare parts and equipment. Program completed with 10 units delivered by July, 2008. Additional 2 units are planned. Cost of Program - 330 million Croatian Kuna paid in exchange for a Russian debt to Croatia. The MI-171S helicopters that Croatia acquired were part of a program to clear Russia's debt, but the craft would be fully NATO compatible and inter-operable.
- Procurement of five Zlin 242L basic trainers. Program completed with five aircraft delivered in late 2007. Additional units may be acquired. Cost of program - 8 million Croatian Kuna.
- Procurement of two additional Canadair CL-415 fire bombers and five amphibious Air Tractor AT-802A. Program completed with all five AT-802 delivered in 2008 and 2 CL-415 ordered for 2009. Cost of program - 340 million Croatian Kuna. It has to be noted that these procurements were not planned and the funds were allocated from a surplus in the national budget.
- Procurement of 2-3 medium-size cargo aircraft. The details of the program were not initially known, but second-hand aircraft were more probable. Cost of program - unknown.
- Procurement of Advanced short-to-medium range NATO SAM systems and modernization of existing Russian-made 9K38 Igla SAMs. Croatia needs 12 short-to-medium range SAM batteries. Cost of program - 700-850 million Croatian Kuna.
- Modern Radar network. New modern Radar network was put in to use in 2007 - AN/FPS-117 Radar network consisting of 5 radar stations across Croatia. Cost of program - 1,800 million Croatian Kuna, program was initiated in 1998 and paid for by Croatian MOD in 1999.
- Additional programs were also being considered - additional utility, ASW, SAR and police helicopters.
- Modernization costs will total €1,157 million, equivalent to US$396 per Croatian citizen.
- Croatia has also shown an interest in joining NATO’s Strategic Airlift Capability Programme.
The Croatian Air Force had a requirement to purchase between six and 12 new Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). The US government argued consistently that Croatia could rely on NATO partners for Air Policing and would be much wiser to invest in rotary wing and medium lift capabilities. The Croatians, however, remained steadfast in their commitment to procure fighters. While at one time some may have thought this procurement was driven only by senior air force officers looking to keep fast movers in their inventory, it is clear that the decision to procure fighters has been made at the top levels of the government and was irreversible. Minister of Defense Berislav Roncevic stated that Croatia cannot be talked out of fighter jets. Memories of the air raids the early 1990s are too fresh in Croatian minds, making this an emotional argument that defies fiscal logic. Roncevic said "My son will never have to use a bomb shelter."
The new aircraft were expected to be sourced from either European or American suppliers. Zagreb initially explored a number of options regarding how these aircraft could be purchased. One possibility was a bilateral procurement with Slovenia which could see the aircraft organised into a joint Slovene-Croatian air defence and ground attack unit. Alternatively, Croatia had suggested the possibility of a four-way MRCA procurement in concert with Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey although this suggestion never translated into a formal four-nation acquisition. Other options for Croatia included the acquisition of used combat aircraft to provide a temporary measure so as to delay the acquisition of a new MRCA until the economy improves. Alternatively, Zagreb could opt to do nothing until the country’s economic situation was more stable, and request that other NATO members provide Air Policing protection its airspace until it completes an acquisition.
Immediately following the parliamentary elections in November 2007 and the forming of a new Croatian Government, the new defence minister faced what would be so far the most complex and most expensive project in equipping the Croatian Armed Forces, three times more expensive than the procurement of armored battle vehicles. In question was the purchase of as many as 12 multi-purpose fighter planes for the needs of the Croatian Air Force, worth some US$800 million.
The MoD's Long Term Development Plan called for Croatia to replace its 12 soon-to-be post-lifecycle MiG-21 aircraft with a similar number of advanced fighters for domestic air policing. Croatia sent requests for information for Mirage, MiG-29, Eurofighter, Gripen, and F-16 (Block 15 used, Block 15 mid-life upgrade, and Block 50/52 new). By late 2008 Croatia had all the answers it requested and is conducting further internal studies. At that time the competition had narrowed to the Swedish multi-purpose JAS-39 Gripen, and the American F-16 Block 52. The latest F-16 Block 60 had shown itself to be overly expensive (US$85 million). The French Dassault Mirrage 2000 was to be replaced by the Rafale, so the French aircraft was never seriously considered as a Croatian option.
Defense Minister of the Republic of Croatia Branko Vukelic said in March 2009 "A military system can not be an isolated island. We can not share the destiny of the country and not bear the burden of a time marked by financial crisis. We will, as everybody else, save very much and behave rationally.... in a situation of global financial crises, it is neither possible nor wise to enter into some major projects that require exceptionally substantial funds. Our dynamics in the process of purchasing fighter airplanes for this year was to continue analyzing what would be best for Croatia and prepare for decisions that could be realized in the following period. Everything we have in our strategic plans will depend on funds, but this year we will not think about projects that could place a strong burden on the government budget."
On 11 October 2012 a delegation of the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) delivered to the Croatian government an offer for Swedish combat aircraft Gripen to replace the Croatian Air Force's MiG-21 planes. The director of FXM's program for Croatia, Jerry Lindbergh, told a news conference that the Swedish government had submitted an offer for eight Gripen planes, technical support, a pilot training plan, and financing possibilities - a ten-year loan for the aircraft. If the Croatian government accepted the offer, the first Croatian Gripen will take off in January 2014, a year after the contract signing.
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